Spurred by everything from chickens to Trump, newcomers jump onto Montville ballot

Montville — Before Tara Crossley became “the chicken lady,” she had never attended a meeting in Montville’s Town Hall.

But after spending months leading a successful charge on a project to convince the town’s planning and zoning board to allow and regulate backyard chicken coops, Crossley is taking the leap into the unpredictable world of Montville politics with a Democratic bid for one of five open spots on the school board.

On the other side of the town aisle, another newcomer has put her hat in the ring for the school board: Dana Ladyga, a Montville native, said she had been a reluctant follower of town politics and a liberal-leaning independent voter for most of her life.

Ladyga said the 2016 presidential election jump started her career as a Republican — and now, as a politician.

The two relatively unknown school board candidates are among a small handful of people in town who don’t have "incumbent" in front of their name and have never had their names on a ballot before.

The number of newly minted candidates isn’t large — five people without previous political experience were nominated this week to run for 14 open spots in town government — but each has a different reason for deciding to run for office now.

For Crossley, it was the chickens. After meetings with planning staff, hours of research online and the recruitment of a small army of pro-chicken supporters, Crossley was ready for a fight when she came to the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting where the commissioners would be voting on her proposal.

When the commission voted to allow her request, and with Town Planner Marcia Vlaun’s blessing even added more chickens to the number allowed in a residential backyard, Crossley, 36, was inspired.

"On the way home from Town Hall my husband said, 'You know, you could be the mayor,'" she remembered. "He said, 'I'd vote for you' — and my husband's a Republican."

She said young people, and especially parents, can be deterred from running for local office by the threat of another time-consuming activity.

"We're busy, we have families and jobs," she said. "So I feel like if they're going to vote at all, they're going to be a little lazy about it. Or they get on forums and listen to the gossip, which is really kind of a bad way to get your information."

At her first Democratic Town Committee meeting this week, Crossley said she felt welcome as a new face among longtime active Democrats in the room.

"I kept getting called fresh blood," she said.

Montville Republican Town Committee Chairman Tom McNally said Thursday that the four new faces on the Republican slate were a welcome change.  

Ladyga said she was angered by how Montville’s political news was bubbling over into conversation that her kids were hearing.

Her 9-year-old daughter announced recently that she was going on fewer field trips at school because of the town’s budget woes. Field trip expenses were one of the cuts the school board made to its budget this year in the face of uncertain state aid and pressure from the Town Council to keep spending as low as possible.

More of the messy business of running the town needs to happen behind closed doors, she said.

“Kids just need to have fun,” she said.

She had not considered herself a Republican in the past, but said watching the 2016 presidential campaign and its outcome made her rethink her political beliefs.

Ladyga said her family was surprised that she decided to run for the school board, but supports her.

“(My mom) thinks it’s a good outlet for being passionate,” she said. And since becoming the mother to two children and the stepmother to another, Ladyga said she is more committed to being connected to her community.

“We need to care about where we live,” she said.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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